Martis Valley is where Sierra Watch wrote the first chapter in our organization’s ongoing story of conservation success.
In 2000, speculators sought approval for massive development throughout Martis Valley – subdivisions with 6,000 new houses on both sides of Highway 267, from Truckee to the rim of the Tahoe Basin.
Sierra Watch started the campaign to Save MartisValley, built a team of planning experts, recruited a core of committed donors, and achieved what was then considered impossible: turning back “inevitable” development proposals.
And we secured a positive vision for the Valley, a blueprint that includes less than half of the proposed units and permanent limits on how much can be built – forever.
One of the truly iconic landscapes of the Sierra Nevada, Donner Summit is treasured by residents and second homeowners, hikers and skiers, naturalists and historians. Thanks to Sierra Watch and our conservation allies it will stay that way, forever.
In 2007, Royal Gorge landowners proposed a massive development – 950 new housing units spreading from
the edge of Sugar Bowl, surrounding Serene Lakes, and down into the North Fork American River Canyon – doubling the number already in the region. It was a nightmare scenario of traffic, roads, and rooftops.
Working with Summit property owners, regional conservation allies, and local civic groups, Sierra Watch turned back the misguided proposal and created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase – and protect – the entire Royal Gorge property.
Now, instead of battling sprawling subdivisions and new roads, Royal Gorge is protected as wildlife habitat and hiking trails. Proving once again that we can work together to protect the places we love.
Bear River, 2011–2012
In a stunning victory for the Sierra Nevada and everyone who cares about our region’s resources, Sierra Watch turned back a proposal to build a new dam on the Bear River.
In a classic water grab, Southern California interests proposed to dam the Bear River and send our Sierra waters south. Sierra Watch spearheaded a collaborative effort to protect the river’s surrounding ranchlands, abundant wildlife habitat – and the river itself.
Running between the Yuba and American River watersheds, the Bear River tumbles from the granite peaks of Emigrant Gap, through the remote reaches of the California foothills, and into the Great Central Valley.
In recent years, the Garden Bar Region – in the canyons below Highway 49 – lies at the heart of a collaborative investment in permanent protection of working ranches and thriving wildlands.
Those resources were at risk of a 350 foot tall dam that would have blocked the river and flooded 2,000 acres of the Bear River Canyon. Water would have shipped south to serve the dam’s initial funders – urban water districts as far away as San Bernadino, 470 miles from the Bear River watershed.
With its unique set of values, Garden Bar has been a high priority for conservation funding. Placer Land Trust and Bear Yuba Land Trust have invested millions of private and public dollars to protect the region’s habitat, cultural, watershed, hiking, fishing, and ranching resources. The proposed dam would actually submerge land that’s already been protected, including Garden Bar Preserve and Bruin Ranch.
The proposal posed a real danger to important Sierra resources: wildlife habitat, cultural resources, watershed function, and working ranchlands–as well as to the Bear River itself–and the project would have created a new template for an old-fashioned water grab: distant Southern California water district targeting a small, agricultural district through which to construct a dam, impound Sierra water, and wheel it south.
By turning back the dam, Sierra Watch provided a great example of how we can work together to defend what we love about the Sierra Nevada and sent a clear message throughout the state: our rivers and canyons are worth more than a dam.
Dyer Mountain, 2001–2013
Dyer Mountain stands in the remote regions of the far Northern Sierra. Untouched by pavement, its vistas and habitat provide another great example of how we can work together to protect the places we love.
For more than a decade, however, it faced a much bleaker future. The massive 7,000-acre holding was slated for sprawling subdivisions with 4,000 houses, three golf courses, and a ski resort.
For thirteen years, Sierra Watch worked with Lassen County locals to protect the mountain. And at a hearing in 2014, we celebrated the end of the corrupt and misguided attempt to subdivide, pave, and develop Dyer Mountain.
Dyer Mountain Associates (DMA) filed its original development proposal in 1999 and locked in favorable zoning with a 2000 voter-approved initiative. Out of scale with its rural surroundings, the project would have more than doubled the population of Lassen County.
In terms of infrastructure, the only access was a dirt road and a one-lane bridge across the Hamilton Branch of the Feather River. And the property included incredible conservation and cultural value, home to bald eagle habitat as well as sacred Native American sites.
But to some, the development appeared inevitable.
A 2001 edition of Skiing magazine projected the resort would open for the 2003-04 season. Developers were selling first dibs on new lots in their impending subdivisions. And Sierra tourists read in the 2009 Lonely Planet Guide to California, “By the time you read this Dyer Mountain Resort will be the area’s new winter polestar.”
In the meantime, would-be developers were running into trouble, some of it of their own making. They were sued by their own investors for fraud. The project mired in bankruptcy, foreclosure, and debt. Ownership passed through a series of creditors and holding companies.
All the while, Sierra Watch was working with committed locals and regional non-profits to build overwhelming support for the protection of Dyer Mountain.
At the center of that effort was Steve Robinson, a Viet Nam vet and retired carpenter who lived in the Lassen County town of Westwood, beneath Dyer Mountain.
Robinson worked with neighbors to found a new organization, Mountain Meadows Conservancy, to take up the cause. He travelled throughout the Sierra and California to recruit support. And he offered tours – Steve would invite you up to Lassen County and show you the rugged beauty of Dyer Mountain; by the time you got back into your car to drive home, you were hooked.
Fourteen years into the fight, Robinson died in February of 2013. But he left behind a combination of personal commitment, grassroots advocacy, and effective litigation that proved too much for the development to withstand.
Later in 2013, the property was purchased by a new owner, who quickly made it clear: they had no intention to pursue development of the property. In September, they joined us in asking Lassen County to rescind the 2007 development approvals. And the Lassen County Board of Supervisors followed through with that request, negating the development’s 2007 Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Subdivision Maps, and Development Agreement.
Just as in Martis Valley and on Donner Summit, the message from Dyer Mountain is clear: no development is inevitable; we can work together to protect the places we love.